Chapter One of the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries ended on Tuesday night with the conclusion of the first Democratic debate. Despite a rough summer, frontrunner Hillary Clinton performed well onstage and appeared to stabilize her erosion in the polls. Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee, and Jim Webb, the three minor Democratic candidates, scored few points and remained minor candidates. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s progressive challenger, performed well and used the opportunity of media focus to spread his message to a wider audience.
Many pundits thought that Clinton won the debate, but most focus groups and online polls handed a victory to Sanders. The situation is analogous to Democratic campaign fundraising: Clinton narrowly wins the money race due to overwhelming support from wealthy donors, but Sanders pulls a surprisingly close second through widespread grassroots donations. Pundits and wealthy donors favor Clinton, but the general public favors Sanders.
Reinforcement of this general public preference for Sanders may be alarming some Clinton fans, who seem to be launching a backlash against Sanders’ supporters for being too, well, vocal. Sanders supporters who have criticized the media and punditry for quickly calling the debate victory for Clinton are being called conspiracy nuts. This is condescending and ignores genuine complaints progressive have with media conglomerates, especially its support of political candidates. Time Warner, which owns CNN, the network which hosted the Democratic debate, is the eighth largest donor to Hillary Clinton.
The portrayal of Sanders’ supporters as conspiracy theorists and quasi-racists, due to their disagreement with Black Lives Matter protesters’ complaints about Sanders, may become more highly publicized during Chapter Two of the campaign. As Sanders becomes more of a threat to Clinton, his supporters will likely be further pilloried and accused of sexism, misogyny, and all manner of extremism. Already, Sanders’ supporters are being accused of harming the Democratic Party by championing “extreme” views that will, according to critics, never win a general election.
These critics are wrong. Sanders’ views are what the general public wants. They are what the middle class needs. What we don’t need is the philosophy that we should focus on “getting things done” rather than fixing real problems. Only Sanders will fight for real progress, not compromises that leave the middle class in the lurch and allow real wages to continue to erode.
We populists and progressives must now allow ourselves to be muzzled by opponents who want to portray us as incendiary radicals. I will advocate respectfully, but tirelessly and vocally, for my interests and those of my friends and family. I will not be cowed by insinuations that disagreeing with Hillary Clinton or having questions about her voting record constitutes sexism or misogyny. I will not be cowed by accusations that disagreeing with Black Lives Matter complaints about Bernie Sanders constitutes racism. Instead, I will calmly but firmly explain why Bernie Sanders and his policies are what we need in the Oval Office.
Bernie Sanders should win, he can win, and he will win if we do not allow ourselves to be discouraged in the face of growing attacks on him and his supporters.